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Mixed Messages  

I am confused.

In our town—perhaps yours as well—we see lots of signs encouraging us to “stay safe—stay home.”  Point taken.  COVID-19 continues to threaten and kill.

Yet our town also features signs that say, “Businesses are open. Shop local.” 

Hmm....what are we really saying? "Stay home unless you have dough to spend, and unless you intend to spend that dough locally?"  Or maybe the intended message is "Spend your money here first—THEN stay home.  To me, it's a mixed message.

Sure, I get the fact that everybody needs milk and eggs and toilet paper.  Which means there is a point at which we do have to leave home. And we do have a choice in where we shop.  Still, it just feels like a mixed message.

But as I was contemplating this curiosity (unintentionally pointing the finger at our civic leaders), God reminded me four fingers were pointing back at me.  Am I not equally guilty of sending mixed messages?

Early in the morning, I ask to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  Yet an hour or two later,  I am so often so filled with myself, Jesus can't even get in the throne room of my heart, let alone find a place on the throne. Mixed Message.

I talk about the importance of a daily quiet time with God, but allow—even create—so much noise (activity) in my life, it all but drowns out the possibility for quiet.  Even if I do squeeze in the formality of a few minutes with Him.  Mixed message.

I encourage others to share their faith with unsaved friends and neighbors.  Yet my own heart can be virtually unmoved by the ticket to Hell that seems almost visible in the hands of so many I know.  Mixed Message. 

I could go on. But looking in my "soul mirror" is painful. The antidote?  Psalm 86:11, a prayer of David:

Give me an undivided heart that I may fear your name.

 
An Inconvenient Snow  

On April 15, it snowed.  

Enough to cover the grass.  Enough that I could carve a heart on the windshield for my wife.  Enough to cause a 50 vehicle pile-up on Chicago's Kennedy Expressway, sending twelve people to the hospital.

It's tempting to call this an "inconvenient snow."  It is spring, after all.  April showers, not April blizzards, are supposed to bring May flowers. For anybody now dealing with an insurance headache and a car in the body shop, it certainly was an inconvenient snow.

Me, I took a walk in it. I made sure that hike took me past a storybook spread of white-frosted pines. Pure magic!

The still-falling flakes brought to mind Psalm 51:7. “Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”

But God’s call to purity is rarely a thing of convenience, I’ve noticed. On the surface, life appears to be going well.  Church is good. We’re engaged, perhaps, in our daily “quiet time” in the Word.

Yet, God knows our hearts. He sees the filth we've somehow allowed.  Or collected.  Or sprouted from the seeds of our dark deeds. 

He sees it.  Hates it.  Offers to clean it—and us.  Yet He does all of this only with our full cooperation. 

Purity demands honesty.

Purity requires confession.

Purity insists on repentance.

Purity is not convenient.  

But only a pure heart will see God.

 

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."

—Jesus

 
You Scared Myself!  

I'm still not sure how it happened.  At one point, we were playing, laughing, and enjoying the antics that provoke little tykes to giggle (my specialty).  Then, rather abruptly,  a look of fright oozed all over three-year-old Ava's face.  Something had startled her, but I didn't know exactly what.  And her response was unforgettable.

“Hey, you scared myself!” She blurted accusingly. I couldn’t resist teasing her.  So I fired back, “You scared myself?”

“No!” She insisted.  “You scared MY-self!” (Emphasis on the “my”).  

“Oh,” I feigned understanding.  You scared MY-self.”

“No!” Ava insisted.  “You scared MY-self.”

Whatever the original fear trigger, it got lost in a flurry of flamboyant debate. Whether or not Ava could tell I was pulling her leg (as precocious as she is, she probably did), it's a conversation I'll always treasure.

These days, thanks to COVID-19, we're spending a lot of time together—alone.  Lots of time in small spaces that can lead to big misunderstandings.  Conflicts that might ordinarily be contained have a way of gaining exponential explosiveness.

Explosions are bad enough. But explosions in small spaces can be deadly. 

The unfortunate thing is that so many of these conflicts start small. Like my conversation with little Ava.

  • A slight misunderstanding.   
  • An unfortunate word choice.
  • A wrong emphasis.  

Then...BOOM!

But as Christ-followers, we're called to be bomb diffusers.  Our orders are to "seek peace and pursue it" (Psalms 34:14). 

It looks like we'll be staying in place awhile longer. Isn't it time we learned to defuse and de-escalate conflict? To disconnect from the evil that leads to relational destruction?

The alternative is to live in a household of self-created land mines. To me, that is so frightening I would have to join with Ava in saying, “You scared myself!”

Cease from anger and forsake wrath; Do not fret; it leads only to evildoing.

   --Psalms 37:8

 
Beware the Undertow  

My wife and I have proudly joined the 2010s.  We now have Netflix on our TV.  Since all the cool kids went there a long time ago, I guess we're not so cool. But we are enjoying a lot of what we see.  From tours of English castles to hilarious movies to mind-expanding  (and downright entertaining) TV series, it’s been fun.

But as delightfully distracting as Netflix is for a season like Coronavirus, it flows into our homes with a deceptive undertow.

I shouldn't be surprised by the unrelenting push to watch more episodes of whatever we just watched.  But it does bug me that my helpful profile is that helpful. 

Netflix (and its media twin, Hulu) have given birth to the concept of binge-watching. Our culture not only accepts the idea—we celebrate it.

Not so fast.  Philippians 4:5 urges, "Let your moderation be known unto all men." Not your binge-watching.  Why?  The verse finishes, "The Lord is at hand."

I dislike that Netflix not only knows what I've seen but brings to my attention with annoying regularity those episodes I have not seen.   As if I am cheating myself for being a TV slacker.

Understand—I don’t wish to trash Netflix.  There is much good to celebrate in its offerings.  But the most uncomfortable part of our streaming relationship is the inescapable undertow of evil.  There is a relentless invitation—an urging, even— to watch things that are  NOT honorable, pure, lovely, and of good repute, the biblical grid laid out in Philippians 4:8.

None of this is a surprise for genuine Christ-followers. And we are surely not the first to struggle with our culture. In his best-loved hymn, Isaac Watts asks, “ Is this vile world a friend to grace, to help me on to God?”  His reply must be ours as well:

“Since I must fight if I would reign,

  Increase my courage, Lord!

I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain,

  Supported by Thy Word.”

 

Streaming television?  It’s great! 

Just beware of the undertow.

 
Big Red Suitcase  

My red American Tourister suitcase—the one with the nice spinner wheels—lived a rough life and died an early death.  Despite the widely held belief that duct tape can fix anything, Ol’ Red gave up the ghost.  Black residue from countless strips of adhesive oozed from a gash that ran most of the length of the top seam, and it didn’t take a doctor to know it was time for the final trip—out to the curb.

Yet, based on the rattle of  Ol' Red's innards, I figured I ought first to perform a sort of autopsy to see what might be hiding inside.  Here’s what I found in my “empty” suitcase:

  • Business card for “Kernel Poppers” in St. Augustine, FL
  • Map of Oslo, Norway
  • Train ticket from Oslo to Bergen
  • “Official Map of Bergen” (glad I didn’t sucker for a lesser unofficial version)
  • Brochure for the King David light show in Jerusalem
  • Western Wall brochure, Jerusalem
  • Antique pottery shard from Israel
  • Romanian cultural book
  • International transit receipt from Toronto Pearson airport
  • Name tag from Global Partners training event in Ghana, West Africa
  • Hand sewn fabric bag from Albania
  • Bus ticket to Las Vegas’ “Deuce” bus system
  • To do list written on “Glen Eyrie” Colorado stationary
  • Page of Sermon notes from Jacksonville’s Church of Eleven Twenty-Two
  • Four metal hangars (trust me—we need them where we travel)
  • 2 Thomas Kinkade Knick-knacks.
  • Dog-eared gospel tract titled, “The Amazing Life of Jesus Christ.”
  • Hampton Inn paper pad
  • Interview notes written on a Days Inn pad
  • Three blank lined 4x6 index cards
  • Funeral memorial card of a friend
  • Ziplock bag with two Vitamin C booster packets (will sell for $25 each or $45 for both)
  • Individually wrapped “Wet Ones” antibacterial wipe (now on eBay—starting bid is $250 for the one wipe).
  • Dental floss
  • Four rubber bands: three green, one blue
  • 3 Gift bags
  • Unopened gift bag tissue
  • Two plastic file folders
  • Canceled Wal-Mart check, plus receipt
  • Power strip with six plug-ins
  • Zippered airline-issued overnight kit featuring socks, toothbrush, and eye patch
  • One LED light switch
  • Assorted plastic bags
  • Earphone suitable for phone use.
  • Miniature scroll copy of the Ten Commandments
  • 56 cents in various coins
  • American Tourister Limited Ten Year Global Warranty card

Consider—all that junk was tucked away in those pockets, which I dragged from country to country. And get this—my eclectic global assortment weighed a total of four pounds. Almost 10% of the allowable airline weight was "spoken for" by junk!

Thanks to Covid-19, most are spending much more time at home.  And some of us are doing spring cleaning like I was. But why limit ourselves to just cleaning our stuff?  Why not a cleaning of the soul, as well?

Who knows what kind of spiritual junk you and I are needlessly carrying around inside us? Stuff that drags us down and wears us out in our witness for Christ. Time to do some soul cleaning!

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.

—Hebrews 12:1

 

 

 

 
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Jon GaugerJon Gauger

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